I’ve been doing home canning for a couple of years now. Literally. This is definitely my second, possibly my third, year doing canning. Before that, I basically did frozen soups and that was all.
But – what with all this seasonal eating and home-gardening and foraging – I’m finding that I need to start developing a better Canning Plan than “looks like a good idea at the moment”.
You know how that goes.
It’s like the old addage “Vegetarians don’t eat tofu. Vegetarians buy tofu… which then goes rotten in the fridge”.
It can be the same with canning. You start out making rhubarb barbicue sauce, because it looks like a good idea at the time, and end up with forteen thousand jars of jewel-toned jam and jelly sitting in your cupboard while you wonder how much toast you can really eat in one winter…
This is the trick with home canning.
Because I – and probably most of you who are reading this – grew up with (a) freezers, and (b) non-seasonal grocery stores, I don’t actually know how to use sugar/vinegar preserves in regular cooking. They get spread on toast or, maybe, layered into a cake (jam, jelly, fruit butter, fruit curd), or they get added to sandwiches/burgers or served as an accent to a Cheese Plate, or used as a garnish (sweet/sour cucumber pickles, for example).
We don’t necessarily have any idea what to do with, say, a bottle of pickled sour cherries other than serve it with baked brie, right?
So… The first question you have to ask yourself is: What do you like to eat?
If you’re a salsa fiend, but aren’t all that into pasta, you’re better off doing a variety of savoury tomato salsas (and variety is key there – I’m a fan of peach-tomato salsa, but green tomato salsa might be on your must-make list) than doing a zillion two-cup jars of tomato sauce… that you will never use.
Similarly, how are you going to use them?
My two main methods of cooking are (a) slow cooker, and (b) stove-top. If I were a barbicue/microwave kind of gal, I might be looking at things a little differently. If I were a raw foodie, I’d… okay, I’d probably be writing about how to use all that stuff you dehidrated last summer, to be perfectly honest, but you get the drift.
I eat meat. I eat meat – and veggies like winter squash, beets, celeriac, and rutabagas – that work really well when cooked low-and-slow. So I can use a lot of my preserves as “glazes” – Take about half a cup of jam/jelly/chutney/sauce and whisk it into about two cups of water. Add onion, garlic, and maybe some grainy mustard or dried sage or balsamic vinegar or something… and you have the “broth” that your pork shoulder (or butternut squash, or boneless, skinless chicken breast, or whatever) is going to roast/braise/slow-cook in.
You can step that up a bit, however, by combining preserves:
Add a tablespoon of tomato sauce – or even ketchup – to your “broth”
Throw in a couple of ice-cube-sized blocks of frozen spinach (or corn, or carrots… you get the idea)
Add a heaping spoonfull of pickles. No, really. I don’t mean add a bunch of kosher dills. I mean: Pickled turnip (that pink stuff they put on shwarma) or spicy pickled radishes. I mean sweet-and-sour montmorency cherries, sweet-pickled pearl onions, or mashed up pickled red peppers.
You can do the same thing on the stove-top:
1 crumbled slice of black pudding (OR chorizo, if eating blood sausage squicks you out – about 1C, either way)
6-12 reconstituted dried mushrooms
4 cubes of frozen spinach (or other greens)
1/2 C spicy tomato salsa OR (for example) balsamic tomato sauce
1 tbsp red pepper jelly OR 1 sweet-pickled red pepper, mashed up
1/4 a yellow cooking onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp marmite (OR tamari OR just plain table salt)
2 tbsp butter OR olive oil
Basil and oregano to taste. 🙂
Combine the whole mess in a frying pan and sautee it, stirring gently but constantly, over medium-low heat, until it’s basically a bubbly, dark red-brown mess.
Add cooked rotini (or whatever pasta you like), heat through, and serve. Possibly with added parmejan on top.
Alternatively, you can add pickled turnip/radish/cucumber/whatever to cabbage salads or remoulades (those French salads made from apples and celeriac) for added sharpness and a handy extra dose of vegetable variety in Winter.
You can also try spreading the cavity of a winter squash (think Delecata or Celebration – something in the “meals for two” category) with a sweet-and-spicy chutney (or jelly, for that matter), and then fill it with a mixture of preserved fruits and veggies – like dried apples, currants or raisins; cranberry sauce; thinly sliced pickled daikon, or sour kraut.
So it’s very doable. But it helps if you have enough Sour Stuff on hand, and a rough idea of what you’re most likely to be eating, anyway. 🙂
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 I’d much rather eat frozen snap beans than pressure-canned snap beans, for example. (Also, I have a freezer and the ability to blanch stuff… but I don’t have a pressure canner).
 Or roasting pan, but if I use the slow-cooker, I find the critter is more tender when it’s done.